Tynisha Lomax has a vision: arty tea shops in every city, where people can relax and unwind, and maybe even listen to some live music. Tea, she says, is becoming the drink of choice of young Millennials rebelling against the Generation X coffee culture.
“The kids don’t drink coffee,” she said with confidence. “That’s for their parents.”
Could it be time for tea to become an American obsession on the scale of craft beers and artisanal coffee? Tea that doesn’t come cold in a plastic bottle laced with citric acid?
Lomax believes so. Levitea began as a successful shop called Levitea Lounge at 9th and Tatnall. It closed its doors earlier this year (“The landlord raised the rent, and I just walked away,” she explained), leading her to pivot into the online and monthly subscription arena.
Around the time she began figuring out how to make the subscription service happen, she told Gerry Moan of the international venture capital firm SmartInvest about her business at The Mill, where she works and Moan has an office. She was instantly invited to apply for the Spark Challenge, the no-cost nine-day workshop that combines business development mentoring and pitching for real investors.
The caveat: Applying meant giving a pitch to investors in 24 hours.
“I have never done anything like that before,” she said. “Never. But I did it, and then did it again the same day after they coached us.”
Levitea was selected to participate, launching her on a journey that would culminate during Delaware Innovation Week 2017 with final pitches to investors and a full audience at Theatre N.
Unlike “Shark Tank,” investors don’t throw out offers and fight over deals during Spark Challenge pitches. All of the negotiating started afterward, when Lomax was approached by interested investors.
“I’ve got some things going on,” she said coyly. No more detail than that, since negotiations are still underway. But the funds, though undoubtedly important, are not the only thing of value to come out of the Challenge.
“They show you how you’re getting in your own way,” she said.
The experience led to an upgrade of the Levitea brand. Not only is Lomax working toward dealing directly with tea farmers in Africa and Asia, something that had seemed out of reach before, but the service itself is going to be more personalized, using an algorithm that will create individualized flavor profiles that will be used to curate subscription boxes (sort of like Ipsy for tea).
“It’s all about thinking global. Sometimes businesses hold themselves back by thinking too small,” she said. “[The Spark Challenge] encourages thinking about your business globally from the beginning.”
Still, Lomax isn’t planning to move all of her focus away from Wilmington. This year, she created a berry-infused black tea blend for the Hotel du Pont, and hopes to continue that relationship. She’s looking at possible deals with local cafes and an early-stage downtown food hall that’s starting to gain buzz. Closest to her heart (if not her bottom line), is a new Levitea Lounge, where art, music and tea will flow.
“That’s for me,” she said.
While she’s too busy with the next big steps for the online company to focus on opening a shop now, Lomax will be co-hosting a Levitea Lounge event with Atypical Society at Studio on Market (219 N. Market St.) on Dec. 15 from 8–11 p.m. It will feature boozy tea cocktails invented by Lomax, afro beats, DJ Nicholson and R&B songstress Mayhrenate. Click here for event details.